The fundamental issue facing users of the FamilySearch.org Family Tree is the concept of shared access. I hear more complaints about "people changing the data on my Family Tree" than all of the other complaints combined. Any day that I interact with patrons in the Brigham Young University Family History Library or any day I talk to someone about doing their family history, the conversation will almost inevitably come back to changes in the entries to the Family Tree.
We might think that this a new problem. If we do, we are wrong. Back in 1978 in the October General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elder J. Thomas Fyans gave a talk entitled, "Ours Is a Shared Ancestry." This was long before we had the internet or FamilySearch or any of the vast online resources we enjoy today. Unfortunately, most of the members of the Church today do not have any experience whatsoever with the Extraction Program or the Four Generation submission program. In 1978 there were approximately 4.1 million members of the Church. Today that number is at over 15.8 million. People born in 1978 are almost 40 years old today. I have been working on my family history since about 1982 and so back in 1978, I was totally unaware of what Elder Fyans was talking about.
Today, most of Elder Fyans' talk has proved to be prophetic. Here is the beginning quote (I became aware of this talk because of an article in the Utah Valley Technology and Genealogy Group publication, Taggology. The article is "A Short History of Source in Family History" by Donald Enstrom.):
When I think of my father, I call him my father; but my two brothers and two sisters would remind me that he isn’t just my father, he is our father.
In thinking of my grandfather, if I were to claim him as mine alone, not only my brothers and sisters would remind me that grandfather is our grandfather, but my first cousins would join in the chorus to say, “He is our grandfather, as well.” If I were to mention my great-grandfather as mine, second cousins would add their voices and remind me that great-grandfather is ours.
It is apparent, then, that ours is a shared ancestry. We shouldn’t think back and say “mine, mine, mine”; we should say “ours, ours, ours.” The farther back we reach, the greater the chorus swells.The issue being addressed by Elder Fyans was the problem of duplication of temple ordinances. He goes on to explain:
It has become apparent that genealogical research efforts are being duplicated. To determine the extent to which such duplication exists, I took my genealogical records to a professional research institute. They compared my records with their name pool and determined that they already had ninety-five percent of my records in their file. That means that only five percent of my records are unique to me. Thirty-four other clients shared my ancestry. I was rather amazed with this and wondered if such a high rate of duplication existed among the general population. At my request the institute took a sampling of clients from all parts of the United States, members of the Church and nonmembers. These names were compared with records in their name pool, and it was determined that eighty percent were duplicates. Only twenty percent were unique.
I found through a study made by another institution that I have at least 348 first, second, and third cousins, all of whom could be searching for the same pair of second great-grandparents.
From this you can see that duplication is tremendous in genealogical research...If you read all of Elder Fyans talk, you can begin to appreciate how far the Church has come in the last 40 years or so. The Family Tree is the current culmination of the Church's efforts to avoid duplication. When we take the attitude that change in the Family Tree is "wrong" or a bother, we are merely perpetuating the problem of duplication. We have finally been put in a position where we must individually confront the reality of having a vast network of relatives, all of whom have the same rights and duties that we have to enter information into the Family Tree. If you are bothered by others making changes to the Family Tree, get over it. The Family Tree is what we have today to address the issue of duplication.
One final quote by Elder Fyans.
Using the technological blessings of today does not depersonalize; it modernizes the quest for our roots.
From the perspective of our Father in Heaven, what must we accomplish?
We must make available all the exalting blessings of the gospel to all of his children who have ever lived, if they choose to accept them.